Heartward Christianity

2:20 PM

I was uploading photos on my laptop when she came to me. It was late, around ten-ish, and the children had gone to bed. Only night shadows, orange light and two sisters were up in the living room.

She wanted to talk with me.

Go for it.

There was a girl, she said, that continually made her feel bad.

She being mean to you?

No, she just didn't realize that what she said came across as Pharisaical. She was a sweet girl, a good girl; my sister liked her very much; but she would almost do gymnastics to insert an out-of-place comment about her superb spirituality that made her seem holier-than-thou. Especially when my sister had mentioned she was struggling in a specific area. My sister couldn't measure up to the standard. She didn't pray as much. She didn't fast. She didn't sacrifice this and that. She felt like a spiritual failure.

(And the poor girl expected me to solve this problem.)

To be perfectly honest, I know exactly where she's coming from. I'll get in a certain blog-loop and be overwhelmed by how inadequate I am: I don't pray for my future husband daily; I don't fast for hurting friends; I don't visit the nursing homes twice a week; I don't exchange blogging for hour-a-day prayer marathons; I don't grind my own grain or have the slightest interest in low-fat cooking. And of course, I cannot blame the girls who cook low-cal and are intimidating spiritual warriors. It's not their fault that I feel inadequate. They shouldn't stop their good deeds just because I'm not as spiritually shaped-up, so to speak.

But I feel that as a Christian -- a Christian who greatly desires to please God -- I sometimes focus too much on the sacrifices and outward manifestations of spirituality. Much of what is called "godliness" and "holiness" is a list of rules: do not taste, do not touch, do not look at, do not even acknowledge that such a thing is in existence. And indeed, a holy walk with God does sometimes require the sacrifice, the cutting off. That's the Christian thing to do: Christianity = sacrifice.

I think of the monks and ascetics back in the good old Gnostic days, locking themselves in dank concrete rooms, praying and fasting around the clock, refusing sleep, refusing comfort, sacrificing health and happiness to purify themselves and make themselves acceptable to God. There was a monk who, when emerging from his cell, covered his eyes so that he would not see the beauty of the Swiss Alps.

I think of the goody-two-shoes, Sunday church-goin' spinster who wore only the plainest clothes, ate only the most simple food, supported the starving children of Africa, filled up free time with missionary meetings; and abstained from alcohol, lipstick and card playing. She spent the rest of her cloistered time criticizing fellow church members who fell into the devilish habits she refused to indulge in.

Their sacrifices defined their Christian walk. How many hours you could go without food, how many prayers offered up, how many years one hadn't listened to rock music, were that many leaps closer to Christ.

I support personal convictions. I have several myself that are unpopular and earn me the privilege of being suspiciously regarded as brainwashed and patriarchialized.

But I'm learning that there's another sacrifice, a harder sacrifice, a sacrifice that Paul said only the mature could attain to: a living sacrifice. It's so easy to fast from this or that, for the glory of God. It has the look of spirituality. How easy is it to eat, devoting every bite to the glory of God? It's so easy to refuse to engage in media forms -- music, literature, film -- (and it's even easier to call such pleasures worldly). People acknowledge that you're up to something spiritual by your self-controlled restraint. But how easy is it to use those tools in a way that truly honors the Lord and proclaims His name? It's so easy to sign ourselves up for foreign missionary work -- not so easy to reach others in the ordinariness of life. It's so easy to stay pure from the world locked away in a cloister -- not so easy to stay pure for the Lord rubbing shoulders with common men.

I think we lean toward "cutting off" instead of doing the hard work of discipline, devotion and dedication. For a period of time, it may be good to have list of "do nots" -- personal convictions that guard from sin and keep our hearts on the Lord. Some of us are not able to, say, eat something for the glory of God or do something for the glory of God that someone else may wholeheartedly do. I myself was a very rigid Christian when I first desired to please the Lord -- back six years ago. I do not judge myself for those rigid convictions. I needed them. I followed them sincerely to please the Lord. I was blessed to follow them. But over the years, I have grown more confident in the Lord, and some things that I cut off completely, I feel He is calling me to dedicate solely to His glory. I have changed. Some of the convictions and scruples I minutely followed I do not feel I can do unto the Lord anymore.

And that's my main goal: glorifying, magnifying, adoring Christ in every pore, in every action, in every desire. This isn't a call to throw conviction to the wind: no, I encourage every one of you to stand fast to your convictions against what other people say (or sneer at) and toward the glory of God. This is merely a call to make glorifying God the main point of your convictions, not a false spirituality or an outward show. Nor is this discrediting the outward manifestations of spirituality that some will try to label as legalism. Indeed, it's not about the outward at all: it's a heart thing. It's a God thing. May He be praised.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in the honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. // Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? ... So then each of us will given an account of himself to God.

ROMANS 14:5-12

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13 impressions

  1. I'll be praying for you and "your sister". I love you, gals!

    *hugs*

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  2. Wow! That was very articulately expressed! I have been thinking about this topic often as of late, but was not able to express myself so clearly as that. ;) I will definitely be printing this out to read over again and again. Thank you for writing this.

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  3. I really appreciate this post. You know I usually pounce on things I don't agree with in your posts. This, though, is so far beyond anything I've seen from anybody I would call 'patriocentric', and most people who I'd call patriarchal. You've got a good corner on the truth here and it was refreshing to not have an enjoyable post soured with a commandment to do more and try harder or we won't be worthy of God, as would usually occur on most patriarchal websites I frequent. Anyways thank you, very much.

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  4. Amen, Sister!
    I never thought of dedication in that way. Remember when my friend, Casey, visited our church? The first tme we met he hated me. He thought I was too self-righteous, like I was too good for him. He likes me now, but I can see how that would have helped.

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  5. Such wisdom. Thank you for sharing.

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  6. Hi Bailey -

    I have been reading your blog for a little while now, and I want to compliment you on the spiritual maturity you exhibit in this particular post. You make a very succinct point about the often thorny delineation between our perception of how we ought to glorify God and what He actually requires of us.

    I was particularly struck by your comment that it is "not so easy to stay pure for the Lord rubbing shoulders with common men." I am entering my senior year of study at a notoriously secular university where I have struggled to find solid ground in which to stake my Christian convictions. I sometimes wonder how my college experience would have been different if I had attended an explicitly Christian university, but as I near graduation, I am coming to understand how immensely this period in my life has grown my faith and afforded me opportunities for ministry I would not have had elsewhere.

    We are not called to be of the world, but we are certainly called to be in the world for His glory.

    Peace, Amanda

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  7. I love this!!! A perfect reminder for me and also encouragement. Love it!

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  8. I love the style of your blog!

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  9. Bailey, I love your posts. You express things so well, and I thank the Lord for that. I'm encouraged to better myself every time I read something on your blog. :)

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  10. "And that's my main goal: glorifying, magnifying, adoring Christ in every pore, in every action, in every desire."
    Amen!

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  11. Don't take this the wrong way. Bailey, you are a saint.

    I have been struggling with these sort of inadequate feelings for several days now... but unable to quite put a finger on what they were. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying it for me!

    And thanks for making me feel a little better, too. The Lord knows I needed that.

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  12. I totally understand. The other day I was talking to someone and they mentioned how much they read and love the Bible. To my discredit I was too embarrassed to confess I am not an avid reader of this wonderful book, if you will. I try, I really do, but often I get bored when I read. I am certainly unable to measure up to those whose spiritual life is SO great. I too have a LONG way to go!

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)